Comfort zones and preferences are not stagnant. They change over the years, whether by the literal space or item transforming into something different, or by the natural transition in a personality throughout a lifetime. We can return to these things, even revel in them, but that change is inevitable.
Such shifts are not always negative. When I was a younger person, I didn’t care for bitter tastes. The flavor of tart cherries or dark chocolate simply couldn’t compare to the sugary sweetness of strawberries and creamy milk chocolate. But I grew to love the complexity of bitter foods, which opened an entire world of possibilities (especially in this age of umami trends).
However, there are times when the places where you felt most comfortable no longer feel as safe as before. People who you admired or stories where you could identify with the protagonist no longer resonate. These are the changes that can be soul-shattering, that lead to a reassessment of all that you are and where your life is going.
We live in a fascinating time for narrative in video games. The tales of daring heroes fighting against blatantly evil forces in fantastic worlds still exist, but they now share a space with stories of relatable characters who find themselves in difficult situations that are only a stone’s throw from our own lives. The more effective of modern narratives truly resonate with players, allowing them to explore feelings they may have never even considered before.
I still enjoy the unrealistic games sitting on shelves today. But more and more, I find myself drawn to titles with grounded stories and sympathetic characters. My latest beer and video game pairing sits squarely within this new narrative desire, along with my growing love for complex brews.
Based out of Bend, Oregon, Deschutes Brewery has only recently wandered into my beer radar. The reasoning for this is two-fold. First, Deschutes has decided to open their East Coast operations in my old hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. This means that whenever I visit my family, I am bombarded with news of brewery developments (both by local news and my parents). The more relevant reason for Deschutes’ sudden arrival into my circle of beer is because their brews have only become available in my market within the last few months.
No matter the reason, I am happy that Deschutes Brewery has found its way into my life. Their beers are quite tasty and their website is a wealth of unique information. For many of their beers, Deschutes shares food recipes to use the brews as worthwhile ingredients, along with details on the brewing components, lest any homebrewers want to try their hand at replicating these delicious beers.
Since they landed in my local markets, I have enjoyed several of Deschutes Brewery’s year-round releases, but only recently was I able to lay my hands on a bottle of their Reserve Series: The Abyss (2016).
This limited release brew has the most complex description I have encountered for a beer. It is an imperial stout brewed with blackstrap molasses and licorice, and dry spiced with cherry bark and vanilla bean. Half of the resulting beer is barrel aged for 12 months, with 21% aged in oak bourbon barrels, 21% aged in oak Pinot Noir barrels, and 8% aged in New Oregon oak barrels.
Needless to say, there is a lot going on in The Abyss. This syrupy stout pours a pitch black color with warm hazelnut edges and a frothy mocha brown head. A smoky nose of shoo-fly pie and cherry licorice overpowers the senses, with a gamy hint of roasted pork in the background. The first sip is a bite of cherry tartness, which spirals into a body of brown sugar, brisket burnt ends, and sea salted caramel. Finishes with a rich boozy note of coffee and vanilla bean.
The Abyss is an interesting combination of the preferred flavors of my youth and my adulthood. The rich vanilla bean and molasses tastes harken back to the shoo-fly pie and Breyers ice cream of childhood, while the tart cherry licorice and bitter coffee notes are more in line with my adult tastes. The culmination of these preferences is fantastic in execution, feeling like the best parts of the food experiences of my life thus far. Plus, in both name and complexity, this brew pairs quite well with the indie darling, Night in the Woods.
Originally announced via Kickstarter on October 22, 2013, Night in the Woods is an adventure game from developer Infinite Fall. While Night in the Woods focuses on traditional adventure game elements of narrative, exploration, and interacting with a large cast of characters, the gameplay also features several more action-oriented mechanics. As college dropout Mae Borowski, players run, jump, and engage in other twitch-based functions to explore her hometown of Possum Springs.
From the developer’s website, Mae seeks to, “resume her aimless former life and reconnect with the friends she left behind. But things aren’t the same. Home seems different now and her friends have grown and changed. Leaves are falling and the wind is growing colder. Strange things are happening as the light fades.”
To my less patient self, the game seemed sluggish at the start. Lots of wandering around Possum Springs, discovering the mundane goings-on in citizens’ lives, and having inconsequential conversations with my friends. The plot wasn’t driving towards a single conflict or climax. The game was just…happening.
It wasn’t until later, when the story started to unfold, that I realized how necessary this build-up was to the narrative. Just as I was adjusting to these new characters and spaces, so was Mae. Her reaction to these ordinary experiences was just like mine: familiar and alien at the same time. As the town where Mae grew up became more hostile and mysterious, I was already deeply endeared to the characters who I was getting to know from the start of the game. However, what I hoped to accomplish as Mae within this story wasn’t always an option.
There were several moments where player agency is removed from the narrative. I had no choice when it came to some of Mae’s more delinquent impulses. It didn’t matter whether my version of Mae would steal. The real character of Mae would take such risks, so I became accomplice to her petty shoplifting (and by extension, learned more about her character).
Of course, there is still plenty of influence to be made by the player’s decisions. As the story progresses, Mae has the option to spend time with each of her various friends. These decisions have a direct impact on how much and what type of content is seen by the player, opening and closing certain character storylines on each playthrough. Through these narrative branches, Night in the Woods offers plenty of replay value. I was encouraged to try multiple playthroughs in order to enjoy every potentially bittersweet and gorgeous scene.
On a technical level, Night In The Woods feels good. It is so much fun bounding around Possum Springs as Mae. Her controls feel responsive and fluid, with endearing animation to match. In fact, each character is animated in a way that further emphasizes their personality. The spastic and somewhat dangerous Gregg moves in a fluid and unpredictable manner. Beatrice’s slouch and sluggish movements reflects the life of an overworked woman, struggling to keep a family business afloat. The clean visual style and attention to character details make Night in the Woods even more endearing.
As I engage in conversation with friends new and old, I have become increasingly aware of the changes in my comfort zones and preferences. Speaking specifically to video games, I find myself turning away from the more violent and narrative-sparse titles of my early adulthood. I find that an immersive story and relatable characters matter now to me more than ever. Of course, I still want the actual mechanics of play to be fun in my video games. Fortunately, Night in the Woods checks both of those boxes. I would highly recommend this bittersweet and heartfelt game, which pairs quite well with the complex and rich flavors of The Abyss.